Saturday, March 14, 2009

Honeymoon in Tehran

Honeymoon in Tehran is one of the books I recently reviewed, but 300-400 words is not enough to explain what this book contains or what insights it provided.

First and foremost, Azadeh Moaveni's book is a memoir, a history of her more recent time in Iran before and after her marriage. The honeymoon part of the book is not just about her marriage, which comprises the last one-third of the book, but about her relationship with Iran, its customs, political climate and people.

In many ways, Moaveni's honeymoon was part of a continuing cycle in an abusive relationship with Iran, and that relationship, as well as the relationship of most Iranians with their country and its government, is abusive. What else would you call it when the government goes through periods of crackdowns on satellite dishes and dress codes and then ignore those same things just to crack down on them again when the unsuspecting citizens lapse into a feeling of safety and marginal freedom just to be plunged back into terror, fear and paranoia?

The government jams the Internet and satellite television all the time, but having a satellite dish is against the law, and yet millions of Iranians have them, pointing out that in the past when government workers came to kick down the dishes they were rude to the doormen and the families and now they politely march up to the roof and kick down the dishes and take them away. It's the plaintive claim of any abused person who does their best to find something good about the relationship they either cannot leave or are afraid to leave, and it is Moaveni's reaction as well. Iranians know they are breaking the law by having satellite dishes, but they keep buying more dishes and putting them back up in order to have a little freedom and a chance to see something other than the heavy-handed religious and state operated channels they are allowed.

It is the same for dress codes. The chador, a traditional shapeless black, sometimes patterned, garment that covers from head to toe and held together by the hand or teeth, is worn by extremely religious women. The manteau is a long coat that must be worn when a woman is in public, although modern Iranian women who are more secular and less religious wear shorter and tighter manteaus when the government police and Basiji (members of a volunteer paramilitary organization, or civilian militia, mostly populated by young people from poorer sections of the country and Tehran) are less vigilant. And it is the same thing for head scarves. When the government is on a crusade to fine and imprison any Iranian woman not wearing an opaque and voluminous head scarf, women wear sheer and colorful head scarves. The problem is that no one knows when the government will change its tone and mood, but secular Iranians have learned to cope, just as Moaveni learned to cope, dancing along a dangerous razor's edge line between the cycle of rage and honeymoon with the government and her homeland.

Despite what the Western world believes about educated and modern Iranians' devotion and belief in Ahmadinejad, the truth is very different. Ahmadinejad is hated by most Iranians, except for those in the religious right, and suffer under his rule. They are ashamed of his ranting and raging against the Western world and his stance on Israel, but the cannot do anything about it since he is the figurehead chosen by the mullahs (religious leaders) to govern the secular government. During his tenure, Iranians have watched their marginal economy take a nose dive as Ahmadinejad and the mullahs drive the country deeper and deeper into debt by funding Hamas and Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations while antagonizing the West by continuing work on nuclear weapons instead of focusing on providing clean and safe electricity as publicly stated.

Just after Ahmadinejad was elected, Moaveni interviewed a mullah and asked why the people, who wanted a secular government, voted for a man "...who considers cemeteries decorative." He responded, "Do you think the people who voted for him even knew that? He spoke only about jobs and the economy. Eight years of failed political reform disappointed people. It made them indifferent to politics. [T]hey figured that if they could not have real freedom, they might as well have more manageable rent, better jobs." Arising from obscurity, Ahmadinejad's "...campaign slogn, 'We Can and We Will' implied fighting corruption, not building the Bomb..." Despite his belligerent attitude and his naïveté and amateurish fiscal policies that resulted in the further ruin of the economy, many Iranians applauded him -- at first.

Despite the "...cozy regard [for America that] had evaporated under President one appreciated Ahmadinejad's party ridiculous, party insulting letter [to President Bush and considered it] embarrassing to Iran and Iranians." And yet Moaveni assured a friend in California, who wanted to come to her wedding that "...[i]t's safe! People love Americans here. You'll get marriage proposals in the street, probably."

Interspersed with the darker side of Iran is the beauty of its culture and the reminiscent glory of its past before the arrival of Islam into the Persia of ancient days and fame. Moaveni's descriptions of her extended family and the world they inhabit make Iran sound like a paradise, or at least dwindling pockets of paradise in a toxic world where people become ill and die from the pollution or take their lives in their hands when they go shopping for food or go for a stroll with their children.

Fruit sellers notice when their patrons are buying less fruit because of the economy and tuck a few extra pieces of fruit in their patrons' bags. Western stores glitter for a brief moment before censors black out objectionable illustrations and words. Uneven sidewalks trip and harm the unwary while in poor neighborhoods gangs of Basiji thugs harass women not sufficiently or modestly dressed and covered. In the distance on days when the pollution isn't a thick smoke-filled haze, the distant mountains glisten with snow and families trapped in ugly cement buildings cut into apartments escape to family estates in nearby rural communities where fountains cool the air of walled gardens and children laugh and play with their families.

Iran is a world of conflicting views, modern urban sensibilities and unstable government pulled by secular and religious concerns and Azadeh Moaveni's Honeymoon in Tehran an attempt to breach the gap between Western ideas of Iran and the realities of its beauty and dangers. Even among her extended family in Iran, Moaveni's Western education and sensibilities and rose-colored view of her grandmother's beloved homeland are naive and overly romantic. As a journalist, Moaveni is competent, but careful in what she says and how she says it to protect herself from the torture and imprisonment that would surely follow if she stripped away the veil and showed Iran as it truly is.

She admittedly spins her stories and articles to please the government and that makes much of what she writes questionable, something to be taken with a grain of salt. In the wake of harassment and the fear of imprisonment and worse, Moaveni becomes a soft journalist, shying away from hot topics and writing what she considers neutral stories, discovering along the way "...that there were no 'neutral stories.' [T]here was no avoiding mention of the regime's flaws." When finishing Lipstick Jihad, she "...confessed to Lily, my publisher friend, that despite all my efforts it ended sorrowfully. 'I want so badly not to write a grim Iran book. Why is it turning out this way?"

"It's not your fault," [Lily] said with a knowing smile. "you can't write the sadness out of Iran's story."

In the end, for all its faults and flaws, Honeymoon in Tehran is a closer look into an Iran most of the West has never seen and would not otherwise know and for that reason Azadeh Moaveni's views of Tehran are well worth reading. The view through cracked rose-colored glasses of a sadder by wiser woman is a view worth experiencing. Moaveni's memoir is a revealing odyssey of the heart and soul.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Make them accountable

The more I think about the subject of redistribution of wealth, the angrier it makes me. Since I choose not to hold my anger in, I let it go driven by the force of logic and a desire to make the oligarchs accountable.

The President's base salary is $400,000. That puts him and the First Lady in the salary bracket that requires their taxes to be raised. The question becomes, does this redistribution of wealth include them? It should. If the point is to redistribute the wealth, then the wealthy -- all of the wealthy -- should be included, especially the leaders and proponents of this plan. That includes all government workers, senators, representatives and justices on the Supreme Court. Not only should they be included, especially since this is their plan, but it should include all past presidents who are still raking in salaries paid by the taxpayers and their spouses. Leaders should lead by example and this is one example that should be a very public and transparent example for the country to follow.

I come from a military family and have always believed that a good officer doesn't ask his troops to do anything that he would not do. The same should go for government. Think of all the wealth that could be redistributed back to poorer taxpayers if the President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Cabinet members, senators, representatives, justices and past presidents, like Clinton with his hundreds of billions of dollars of Arab money flowing into his library and foundation, and Vice-Presidents, like Al Gore, were to kick back a bigger chunk of their income. Now that would really be a redistribution of wealth. And Obamessiah should lead the charge.

There has been a lot of talk about biting the bullet and the President not being able to fix the country by himself. He called on all Americans to sacrifice for the good of all. I notice that he didn't include himself in that sacrifice as he tools around the country on Air Force One every week, hosts a party at the White House every Wednesday night and wines and dines his supporters, cronies and friends so often that the White House is becoming the big White Holiday Inn where every day is a holiday. I don't see much sacrifice. Do you?

There was one big sacrifice when Obamessiah gave British Prime Minister Brown a collection of 25 DVD classics that he won't be able to play on his UK Region DVD player and the First Lady handed over a replica of Air Force One she pulled off the shelf in the White House gift shop for PM Brown's children that took less thought than choosing paper or plastic at the grocery store. That was a huge sacrifice.

If we're going to bite the bullet, then it's time for Obamessiah to show us the way and bite the bullet first. Hand over a big chunk of his salary and book royalties and makes sure the First Lady does the same. Then the VP, Congress, Cabinet members, etc. can follow suit in a public show of solidarity and sacrifice. Congress should also include their brand new 11% raise they just voted themselves in the package and give up their taxpayer subsidized health care plan and go on the proposed health care plan waiting in the wings to be implemented. The First Lady said the taxpayers were going to have to give until it hurts and the hurting should start on Capitol Hill. It's time to make them all accountable for the free ride they have been getting all these years.

And if Obamessiah is so good at raising money, how about raising money for his own salary instead of saddling the taxpayers with his White House bashes and Air Force One trips around the country. That's the way a leader shows the way.

I like the idea so much I used the very slow and ponderous White House web site to tell the President that he should stand up and be counted, as should all the oligarchs on Capitol Hill. After all, they are the leaders and it's time to follow the leaders.

That is all. Disperse.

Review: My Daughter's Deli

I'd heard about My Daughter's Deli and finally went inside yesterday morning. I wanted some hot chocolate and a quick breakfast. I got more than I bargained for.

The walls are plaster with patches of brick showing and people have written all over the plaster walls beside, below, above and around the original art work featured on all the walls. There are tables and cozy seating areas in niches and the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing in spite of two gentleman having a friendly discussion. Sharon, the owner, was courteous and moved with a quick efficiency.

I ordered a cream cheese and lox bagel and a large cup of hot chocolate. The best part of the visit was the food. Expecting a bagel with cream cheese schmear and a bit of lox, I was amazed to get tomato, fresh sliced red onion and a bit of lettuce on the bagel, which was fresh and toasted to perfection. The hot chocolate was heavenly with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top.

I was surprised to find the place so empty, especially with such good food. Sharon told me business has fallen off in the past two years because Old Colorado City is not being promoted as it should be. Over the past three years, I have watched business after business pull up stakes and move out in an area that should be teeming with tourists and locals visiting this historic corner of Colorado Springs for the antiques, shops and ambiance of the more relaxed and friendlier west side of town.

Sharon did tell me that two writers come in every Friday at 1 p.m. and stay until 4 p.m., leaving one hour before the deli closes. They bring their laptops and write sitting in the back among the art work and wonderful graffiti decorating the walls, sharing the muse and the food. The food is wonderful and the prices moderate. If you are looking for somewhere to relax and recharge and get a little something to eat, My Daughter's Deli & Espresso is the place to be.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Missing writing tools

I ran out of stationery a few weeks ago. I write a few letters from time to time -- by hand. I went back to Papyrus to buy another box or two of stationery and they had none. There were cutesy cards and cards for writing quick notes, but no letter sheets. Not one single set.

Since then I have run search after search and found nothing to my taste. All I want is 100 sheets and 50 envelopes without embossing or fancy/silly/comic designs. A deckle edge would be nice, but not absolutely necessary. And I do not want pink. White or ivory or even lavender would be perfect. I'd even settle for a pale powder blue, but no pink. I don't want animals or sayings or personalization. I want a box of plain stationery with plain envelopes that doesn't end up costing over $200. Even if I had the money, I wouldn't pay that much and $416 is out of the question.

I have checked everywhere, even manufactures in China and the Middle East, and nowhere can I find what I want. Does no one make plain boxed stationery any more?

I have a few foldover notes with designs in a mint green, and I have used them (I have one left), but I wouldn't use them at all if they hadn't been free and I was out of stationery. There's plenty of ink jet printer paper, but I want something with a linen feel to it, something that has a touch of class and the feel of something that will last for years. I don't want to type and print out a letter, but write it by hand with my fountain pen.

When I talked to my cousin Ellen on the phone this afternoon, I mentioned that I had written her sister, Bobbi Jean, a note. Ellen said everyone likes getting letters in the mail. I didn't realize she felt that way, even though I do and always have. There's something personal and friendly in a handwritten letter on quality stationery that gives even the most mundane news a sense of quality and class.

Email is easy and quick. Typed and printed letters seem colder and more businesslike than a handwritten letter, so why is it so difficult to get what I want? I'm not hard to please, except for not wanting pink stationery, so why does not one make what I need any more? Barnes & Noble had almost what I wanted, and I could've lived with the scalloped edges that scream "girly girl". They had a picture of the set, but no stock, except for an ugly blue and an even uglier pink. Ivory would have been nice, even with the girly scalloped edges, but no joy.

It's true. I'm old fashioned. I'm a dinosaur sinking ever faster into the tar pit. But as long as I have ink and my fingers work, I will continue to write letters in longhand and need linen or at least quality recycled stationery in a neutral color, preferably with a deckle edge, but definitely simple, plain quality stationery. If anyone knows where I can find my correspondence crack, please let me know before I sink forever into the tar pit of lost correspondence for dinosaurs.

Addendum: A couple of wise friends sent suggestions and they turned out to be good ones, so this, this and this (as a last resort) have solved my problem. I knew I could count on them. Thank you.

That is all. Disperse.

Words of a prophet

Thomas Jefferson in some cases could be called a prophet.

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.
Thomas Jefferson

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
Thomas Jefferson

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the
Government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense
Of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results
From too much government..
Thomas Jefferson

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
Thomas Jefferson

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear
Arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
Thomas Jefferson

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of

Patriots and tyrants.

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which

He disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

Thomas Jefferson

Very Interesting quote

In light of the present financial crisis, it's interesting to read what Thomas

Jefferson said in 1802:

'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than

Standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control

The issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and

Corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all

Property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good things come to those who wait--

-- or not.

I'm beginning to be wary of good things happening because they are often followed by problems, like having to pay for major repairs on my car. It's wearing on my usually optimistic nature and dragging me back into a more realistically pessimistic arena that makes me uncomfortable. Granted, I seem to have led a charmed life, and in many ways I have, but it has not been without cost.

For example: Yesterday, the CEO of a website read my post on looters and producers and contacted me to ask if I would let them run the post as a column on their website for which I would be paid. That's the good news. I'm still waiting for the bad news.

That's what I mean. Most of the time when I receive good news I enjoy the moment and get back to work making more opportunities for good news to come my way: raises, selling stories, articles and books, etc. But last week's unexpected expense has undermined my usual attitude and I wonder when I'll be able to get back to normal.

Death affects me this way, especially when the death is in my family or among close friends, hitting me with sharp cracks on the jaw, followed by hard body punches that leave me reeling and out of breath. I know this feeling will pass because it always has in the past, and I'm still here. My only recourse is to rely on the benchmarks that get me through each and every day: work, meals, paying bills, writing, spending time with family and friends and sleep, blessed sleep where I plunge gratefully into the dream stream to work out plot points, characterization and go to those places that remain out of my reach in the waking world. In dreams I am not hampered by anything but imagination and my imagination is a fertile and productive ground where anything and everything is possible.

For now, there is work and the daily round of mundane activities that ground and center me, reminding me that no matter what happens, it too will soon pass.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Looters and Producers

There are two kinds of people: looters and producers. The looters expect to get paid for not working and producing, riding on the coattails of the producers. The producers are the people who actually use their brains to create music, art, industry, jobs and literature, among other things.

Looters blame their misfortunes on not getting a break or having bad luck or, more often, on someone else ruining their chances. They want to squeeze out all the competition so they can rake in all the rewards -- regardless of where those rewards originate. In fact, they are after the rewards the producers make because it's only fair that they should get a piece of the pie.

Producers don't mind competition and they don't get upset when someone they respect in their field is better than they are because they can learn from their competitors and will work to put them out of business. They don't mind the competition even if they lose. They recognize a better producer and aren't shy about congratulating them. It's the same in writing.

There are writers who blame their failures on other writers who have better chances, better luck or who know someone and have sold her soul (or their body) for their success. They are looters.

And there are writers who are producers. They may not start out with much: an article here, a newsletter there and a few stories or contests. But they are learning and producing and getting better, honing the craft of writing. One day, seemingly overnight, the producers are writing books and doing interviews and getting noticed for their hard work, especially by the looters who want to either ride on their coattails or point to them as greedy hacks who never had an original thought or wrote anything that didn't come from someone else's brain. The looters feel they are entitled to take a piece of the action and the producers should pay. Karma is thrown around a lot.

The most telling way to distinguish a looter from a producer is how they treat the competition. Looters will cozy up to other looters or to producers and pretend to be helpful. They aren't being helpful. They want the producers and other looters to fail to prove that Karma is proving them right. It's the old saying that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer -- until the writers the looters have named enemies catch on and realize what the looters are up to.

Producers are different. When they criticize another writer, they are calling a spade a spade and tripe simply tripe. Producers nurture other writers and welcome them with open arms because they truly like having someone else's writing to read, someone who's a really good writer. It's competition, but it's healthy competition because the producers are always learning and growing and incorporating what they read and see and do into their work to make it better. Doesn't mean the producers don't fail from time to time or get a little lazy or just plain tired. It means that producers don't stay down long. Instead producers get up and get back to work writing and welcoming new writers, new producers, into the field. However, producers do not pander to anyone's ego and are not hesitant to let another writer (looter or producer) know that the writer failed or was lazy or is repeating herself. It's not the same as a looter's criticisms dressed up as compliments and containing enough venom to fell a woolly mammoth in 3 seconds flat.

You will know a tree by its fruits.

What all this boils down to is this: Good writers are hard to find and good writers who look forward to shepherding other writers into the field are becoming rarer and rarer. It has become a dog-eat-dog world where most people, writers included, want to make sure that everyone but themselves fail. And the worst of the looters are those who spend too much of their time blaming other producers for their failures, unwilling to acknowledge that they had help from those very same producers.

Every writer begins by incorporating what she reads and admires into her own work. The writing is derivative at first, but eventually begins to change and evolve into a style and voice all its own. We imitate what we love.

I discover new writers, some of whom are very old writers, all the time and I recognize their influence in my own work. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Plato, Homer, Andre Norton, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Blake, Ayn Rand, Sir Walter Scott, Bram Stoker, Steinbeck, Hemingway and so many others, including many new voices and good writers too numerous to name here. Except for Homer and Plato, most of the other writers fell short of the mark a few times, but even their mistakes are well worth reading, providing a manual on what not to do and how a good story and a good producing writer can go wrong. Nothing is without its value. Even looters have value; they are a blazing 60-foot high sign in eye searing neon that show what not to do.

So, if you're a writer and intent on improving, cast nothing aside. Read everything. Accept challenges. And never forget that other writers are not the enemy but competitors that will help or hinder your work. Rely on no one and accept nothing for free because there is always a price. I don't help anyone for free. I expect return on my investment by having something good to read and someone to show me a different view of writing and the world from which I can learn and grow and evolve, so get busy. I'm running out of good books to read.

And now a word from our sponsors

Pat Dollard and Freshman Representative, Alan Grayson.

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We now return you to your regular programming.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Close encounters of the celebrity kind

I was pregnant and living in Tucson. Dave was at the base and David Scott was restless so we took a drive out to Old Tucson. I hoped walking around would tire him out so he'd go to sleep and then I could rest. Actually, just getting around the house was enough to tire me out because the baby was dropping and I felt weighted down, but I was at my wit's end. David Scott wasn't sleeping and neither was I.

It was a beautiful winter morning. The sun was bright and warm and it felt good to be out of the house where the breakfast dishes and laundry waited to be done.

We wandered down the wooden sidewalks where countless actors had walked before us while making movies. David Scott thumped down on the sidewalk and wouldn't move, so I picked him up and carried him into the general store. I wasn't watching where I was going and came to a dead stop, nearly dropping him. Suddenly, he was out of my arms and I grabbed for him, thinking he was falling. A man in cowboy clothes held him in his arms and smiled down at me. David Scott pinched the deep cleft in his chin and giggled. I was mortified as I recognized Kirk Douglas holding my son. I apologized and he smiled and laughed. "No need to apologize. He's a fine healthy boy."

"A little too healthy sometimes," I said. I reached for my son and he waved me off, holding tighter to Mr. Douglas.

"You look tired. How about some lunch?"

"I couldn't, Mr. Douglas. I-I don't want to impose."

"It's Kirk and you're not imposing."

He started out the door, bouncing David Scott in his arms and chatting with him as if my son were his own child. I followed him out the door and down the street to the edge of town, all the time asking Mr. Douglas to let me have my son. I near stumbled and fell and Mr. Douglas -- Kirk -- grabbed my arm with his free hand and guided me into a building where people and some actors I recognized stood in groups or fussed with lights and cameras while others helped themselves from a long table filled with food. Kirk told a young girl to fill two plates and guided me to the table. "Take whatever you'd like," he said as he walked over to a table where another man dressed as a cowboy held court.

I took some fruit and turned away from the table when a deep voice behind told me I needed more than that and piled some more food on the plate. "Go sit over there and I'll bring you some coffee."

"Thank you, but I don't drink coffee."

"How about a coke?" I nodded. He patted my shoulder. "Sit down before you fall down," he urged.

Kirk waved me over to a chair next to him. I placed the plate on the table and sat down. I looked up at the man next to me and he smiled a smile I've seen hundreds of times and introduced himself. I was sitting between Kirk Douglas and John Wayne having lunch while they took turns bouncing my son on their knees. They introduced me around to the other cast members and the director and some of the other staff while we ate and then invited me to stick around while they shot a few scenes. Afterwards, Kirk walked me back to my car, fastened David Scott in his car seat and helped me into the car.